Monday, 10 February 2020

First two weeks of February

Barn Owl (c) JR
A relatively mild but wet and stormy period, when water levels have continued to rise, and the huge flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers have continued to be the star attractions on, over and around the reserve. The birds are very restless and flighty. 
Lapwings, Goldies and Harrier (c) Tom N-L
It only takes one or two individuals to panic and the whole flock will take to the air. Just occasionally it is possible to pick out the raptor that has caused to commotion. Peregrines cause the most consternation flushing even the larger ducks, but Buzzards and Harriers will push up the waders and cause the grazing Wigeon to take to the water. It is worth checking out the large oaks in the first hedge across Noke Sides as both of the Peregrines on site spend time watching from them.
Panic (c) Bark
The strong winds have strewn the Lapwings and Golden Plovers across the sky in ragged skeins. The birds return to the ground eventually after flushing and hunch down heads into the wind. 
Snipe (c) Tom N-L
Looking through them with a telescope is a frustrating business, I found a slightly different bird on the edge of the mass this weekend and just as I was trying to put my companions onto it, all of them took to the wing and once they re-settled I could not find it again in the throng.
L.T.T. (c) Tom N-L

At the first screen the open water has attracted over thirty-five Pochard and I am pleased to report that “our” regular leuchistic drake “Luke” is amongst them for the fifth year running. 
"Luke" sleeping (c) Bark
In addition, there are Gadwall and Tufted Ducks on the lagoons but just a scatter of other species, the large numbers of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Shovellers are out on the Flood Field and on Big Otmoor, where there are also significant numbers of Pintail. 

Gadwall and Shelduck there are five on the reserve (c) Bark
Last weekend there was a hybrid drake Tufted Duck x Scaup out from the first and second screens but it
Tuftie drake (c) Bark

A Barn Owl has been hunting along and around the path to the second screen and is often still out and about well into mid-morning. Wind and rain overnight can not be helpful to bird that relies so much on its hearing for hunting success. 

Barn Owl (c) Bark
A Kestrel has taken up a regular perch on a low bush close to the viewing area for the starlings and is quite approachable. The bund with its elevated position must have become a refuge for small mammals avoiding the flooding on the fields, thus attracting both raptors.
Confiding Kestrel (c) Bark

We thought on Saturday that we heard the first booming from a Bittern, distantly from the far side of the reedbed. It didn’t persist and we were less than totally certain, but records over the past few years show that it is about now that they start calling and it has been an unseasonably mild winter thus far.
Flying in with nest material (c) JR
The Grey Herons are building nests and squabbling in the reedbed, flying in with necks stretched out straight and carrying sticks and twigs. As they reach the nest site they call and raise their crests in display.

Coot wars (c) Bark
Coots are now fully into their “Coot Wars” the slightest dispute will lead to a mass brawl, birds from the far side of the lagoon will patter across the surface to pile into the fight, like drunks outside a pub on Friday night.
Great Crested Grebe the latest addition to the year list (c) JR

Monday, 27 January 2020

Last two weeks of January

Cetti's Warbler (c) JR

During the course of a year the “hotspots” on Otmoor vary with the season and the birds that are around. Currently the second screen is a good place to spend some time, as is the gap in the hedge adjoining Noke Sides where the fields are partially flooded.
Lapwings and Goldies

At the second screen a pair of Stonechats have become very obliging and confiding, sitting out on the fence and on the reeds that edge the water. 

Stonechats on ice (c) Bark
When it has been frosty they have been picking small insects off the ice and when not frozen picking food from the waters surface. 
Male Stonechat (c) JR
The huge bramble on the left-hand side of the screen is home to a very vociferous Cetti’s Warbler that just occasionally shows itself in a very un-Cetti’s way. It is a good time of year to spot these noisy but usually invisible birds. 

Cetti's (c) Bark
Vegetation is at a minimum and the birds can be seen creeping about in the leafless low bushes stopping briefly to make their high decibel familiar calls. They also produce a series of shorter sharper contact calls. On Sunday this week we were able to  watch two birds in the same bush calling and conversing with each other very  near to the path. They are getting territorial already and from the number of birds we are hearing, suggests that we have a very healthy population on and around the reserve.

Golden Plovers (c) Tom N-L
The partial flood on Noke Sides is suiting the Lapwings and Golden Plovers very well. A single huge flock of between two or three thousand Goldies were out there this last weekend. They form a golden-brown carpet on the edge of the water all the while keeping up a continuous quiet chattering. The Lapwings are not in such a tight concentrated flock, instead they are scattered across all four of the Noke Sides fields feeding in the grassy areas that stand above the water. Every so often all the birds lift off in a mass panic the Golden Plovers wheeling in tight formations getting higher until the flocks fragment peppering the sky with black dots before slowly returning to the ground. 

Goldies and Lapwings flushing (c) Bark
There are good reasons for the alarms and mass flushes. What appears to be an established pair of Peregrines are spending a good deal of time perched up in a bare dead oak tree in the first hedgerow across the field. From time to time they make forays across the feeding Lapwings and Plovers causing mass panic. 
Sparrowhawk on Ashgrave and Peregrine on the dead oak (c) Bark
Last weekend we saw the larger female bird returning to the tree with a prey item, but we were unable to see at that distance what it was. The Peregrines are  certainly staying close to their larder!
When the feeding flocks are scoped, we can usually find a few Dunlin scattered among the Golden Plovers or near the feeding Lapwings. They are also more noticeable when the flocks take flight often showing out at the bottom of the flying flocks. 

Pintail Wigeon and Teal (c) Bark
Last weekend a sharp-eyed Old Caley picked out a lone Redshank amongst a lot of Lapwings loafing in the field. It’s the first one for the year  and has arrived much earlier than we would normally expect to see  one on the moor. A small flock of Ruff are also in the vicinity either on Noke Sides or more often out on big Otmoor. 
Blackbird (c) Bark
There are many blackbirds foraging among the tussocks and along the bunds around the reedbed and they are nearly all males, which I understand are more likely to be winter visitors than residents.

Reed bunting feeding on reed seeds (c) Bark
The RSPB staff and volunteers have made the annual reed cut and have cleared a large area to the  left of the first screen. As in previous years they are now raising the water levels  to check the regrowth of phragmites in this area. The area should be good for wildfowl to feed in, for spawning fish in the shallows and in turn offer fishing opportunities to Bitterns. 
Kestrel (c) Tom N-L
Over the reedbed there were three or four different Marsh Harriers. Two of them were certainly indulging in courtship behaviour. A Short-eared Owl was seen over Greenaway’s on Sunday morning and this is the first one that we have seen for over five weeks. The Hen Harrier was seen and photographed on Sunday morning. 

Barn Owl (c) Trefor Knight
Barn Owls are being seen regularly, hunting out from the back of the second screen and in the eastern corner of Greenaway’s.
Pintail;; (c) Bark

Friday, 17 January 2020

Middle of January

Stonechat (c) Bark

Otmoor and its bird life have remained very much the same since the turn of the year apart from the rapid collapse of the Starling roost. There are now just a scant one or two thousand coming in to the reedbed to roost. We have had tempestuous winds and heavy rain, as has the whole country and water levels across the moor are high, as they should be on a floodplain.

Goldies and Lapwings (c) Bark

The number of Lapwings and Golden Plovers continues to fluctuate from day to day as flocks move around in the vicinity, but there are seldom fewer than three or four thousand of each species either on the reserve or in the nearby fields. 
Long-tailed Tit (c) Bark
The extent to which fields are flooded or not flooded has a big influence on where they sit out the days. On the reserve Big Otmoor is currently most favoured, but large numbers are also spending some time on the less accessible Flood Field. Thinly scattered amongst the Lapwings are anything up to a dozen Dunlin and up to fifteen Ruff. 
One eyed Buzzard (c) Bark
From time to time we have  picked out a single Curlew flying over the back of Greenaway’s and over towards the Flood.

Kestrel  above (c) Bark   and below (c) Tom N-L
The large flocks are spectacular. In last weekend’s gales they were whirled and tossed across the sky like autumn leaves, their undulating flight and tight formations making the tumult in the air visible. Once again last Saturday we had to explain to a party of visitors and a walking group that it was not the Starling murmuration they were witnessing, but actually Lapwings and Golden Plovers.
Ducks in a row! (c) Bark

Duck numbers are reaching their winter maxima. There are currently almost two and a half thousand Teal and well above three thousand Wigeon scattered over the site. Interestingly there were over two hundred Pintail recorded on Monday, a large count compared with recent years. 
Brown Hare (c) Oz
There are at least sixteen Pochard present and they spend most of their time on the northern lagoon. I understand that they are in serious decline and our group although small in number is nonetheless important and significant.

Linnets and Reed Bunting (c) Bark

The mixed finch flock beside the hide is attracting larger numbers of birds and will continue to do so as natural food supplies run down. The most frequent visitors are still Linnets and Reed Buntings with a scattering of other species amongst them. 
Stonechat at the Pill (c) Bark
There are at least four pairs of Stonechats on the reserve, there is one particularly confiding pair along the path to the second screen around the area that was roped of for Starling viewing. I trudged out to the Pill on Sunday, accessible now that the floods have receded, and found another pair near the small bridge. 
Wolf Moon rising over the lagoon (c) Oz
I had hoped to flush a Jack snipe but was unable to find one. They have been very few and far between of late and last year was  the first when there was no record of them on the moor.
A melee of birds over the reedbed (c) Tom N-L
A fly-over Great white Egret has been the highlight of the year so far and the year-list currently stands at eighty species.
Two Black Swans a surprise last weekend. (c) Bark